31 Days of Seeing Beyond

31 Days of Seeing Beyond

This was my very first post. It appeared on October 3, 2014. I’m reposting it in celebration of my blog’s 5th Anniversary. Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey.

Three deaths over the last month have left me tired…..and sad. My beloved great aunt……a dear friend’s niece who took her own life… and my stepsister –  who passed after nearly 4 weeks in the ICU fighting to recover from extremely rare childbirth complications.  It’s my stepsister’s passing that brings me most often to my knees. I cry out to the Lord on behalf of her third child, a now 1-month old baby boy who will never know his mother.

They say there is a cycle of grief.  It has various stages. And I’m watching devastated people go through it now.  But in the midst of all this anguish, I  have been blessed to remain thankful and aware of God’s infinite goodness. I have also been given new opportunities to serve Him, and follow Him more closely – sometimes in ways that push me beyond old boundaries. I posted a prayer for my stepsister on Facebook. And soon, the family requested more.  It seemed the Lord wanted to use me.  It made me both nervous and strangely excited – not because people appreciated my writing, but because I had stumbled upon a way to really serve. And I learned – when there are people hurting, perhaps then more than ever, the Lord wants me step out of my safety zone and walk in new terrain, keeping my eyes on Him.

About 10 days ago, I saw the invitation from Myquillin Smith to take the 31-Day Challenge and write in October. I could hear the whisper that always leads me to good places — “Try this” — and felt that tinge – of joy.  And as I sat down to write tonight, I remembered a verse I taped to the front page of one of my journals four years ago when I first intended to write in earnest – but never really did.

A bruised reed he will not break,

a smoldering wick he will not quench….

             —  Matthew 12:20

The Word is full, so full, of promises. And for myself and so many people I love, I am holding on to this one right now.  Whether we are writing or just trying to get on with living day by day, the terrain in my world seems new and tough.  We are bruised and bent over, trampled and beaten down, hardly like flames alight. But when I fix my gaze on Him, when I ready myself through surrendering prayer, I am given all the strength I need.

Lord, help us. Thank you for the confidence you’ve given me – the knowledge that you alone are fully trustworthy, and that you are my only true help – my Savior.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

He Calls Out in the Middle of the Night

He Calls Out in the Middle of the Night

feetMy youngest son calls out in the middle of the night.

He has leg cramps.

He wears orthotics in his shoes to help correct the form of his feet as they grow. Without this assistance, he would be flat footed – and in more pain – later in life.

But the muscle growth now is marked with spots of significant tension, and if we are not diligent about daily stretching, he wakes up hurting.

I hover over him as he wraps his little arms around my neck and cries.

The tears have run down his neck and wet the collar of his pajamas, so I know I didn’t hear him immediately. He’s been suffering alone in the darkness for some time.

Lord, let the ibuprofen I just gave him kick in soon. Please accelerate its effects. Please.

The Master Physician holds my child in His hands. Even this – this bit of physical pain is allowed for a reason, though I cannot fathom why.

See, I have refined you like silver,

tested you in the furnace of affliction. 

-Isaiah 48:10

We are tested and watched by the silvermaker until all residual character imperfections are burned away. He loves us too much to leave impurities behind.

If I know that this long night is a step on my son’s journey toward God, can I be grateful in this moment?

Lord, give me Your eyes for that – the chance to see – in my little boy – the man You envision…somewhere up ahead.

Wrapping Love Around Goodbyes (Two Years Since Claudia’s Passing)

Wrapping Love Around Goodbyes (Two Years Since Claudia’s Passing)

Bleeding Heart Flowers. Photo by By Wuzur - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Bleeding Heart Flowers. Photo by By Wuzur – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

You could tell it was a goodbye just by the way they hugged.

I saw the two women locked in an embrace as I passed them in my neighborhood. They stayed wrapped around one another for longer than two friends typically would, were it just an average parting after a breezy Tuesday lunch.

And when they pulled apart, one dabbed her eyes with a tissue, while the other patted her shoulder.

I don’t know them – don’t know what kind of a goodbye it was. Maybe an altered way or place of living? An illness that makes days less fruitful or pleasant? Or was it a more permanent farewell?

They were near the animal hospital just up the road from me, and if you’ve ever lost a beloved pet you have empathy for that kind of grief. But they were also in a driveway, surrounded by homes. And people experience all kinds of goodbyes every day for reasons far beyond our understanding.

There is suffering. There is separation. People we love go. They move from us here on earth – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And they leave this earth altogether, traveling to a place we can’t see or feel. Only heaven knows why. Only heaven can help us bridge the distances that swell up between us and those we love.

My heart lurched when I saw those women, and it’s no wonder. Today I wish I could wrap my arms around so many others who are hurting from goodbyes, too.

This day marks two years since the passing of my stepsister Claudia, the remarkable woman whose fight for her life over three weeks in an ICU became a focal point of prayer for hundreds. So many people miss her feisty spirit, yearn to see her brown-eyes dance, ache for her laugh. I owe this blog to her, and to the whisper that came to me in the weeks after she went Home, after the Lord stepped in and gave me a bravery I’d never had before, to pray publicly for her on Facebook. Desperation makes us humble. Faith makes us bold.

Grief is a terrible process, and I have no eloquent words of wisdom. It seems to me especially hard for parents, because the death of a child – no matter how old that child is – defies human logic. It goes against what we think of as the “natural order” of things. There is simply nothing to compare to the sadness I have seen in the eyes of grieving parents.

I wish I could be with Claudia’s mom Ingrid in Texas today – to hold her hand and remind her that her beautiful daughter lives forevermore with the King. She was and is God’s child, and nothing can ever separate her from His love, through the saving grace of Christ Jesus our Lord. But since I can’t grasp Ingrid’s hand or wrap her in my arms, I will call her. I will “reach out” with my voice.

Physical closeness can be uncomfortable for many of us, but when someone we love is gone, it’s reassuring to feel the strength of another standing by, ready to literally hold us up as waves of sorrow threaten to drown us. If you are mourning, or experiencing a goodbye of any kind, my heart and prayers are with you today. And if not, please ask God to open your eyes to where your capable hands can be ready to serve. Our world needs you, because our world needs God’s unfailing love, pouring out from your heart.

My Life: A 6-Word Memoir

My Life: A 6-Word Memoir

20160720_134456

A kindred spirit in my online writing group – Hope*Writers – said she went to “Back to School” night this week and was given an assignment from her child’s teacher: Write a 6-word memoir.

Before I tell you what I came up with on the fly (and promptly posted on FaceBook), let me tell you a quick story.

I am not fainthearted. So I decided to give the same assignment to my teenage son.

I reviewed the basic principles of memoir and asked him, “If you had to write a 6-word memoir, what would yours be?”

He began in his wry, salty sort of way…

“Was born. Grew up. Will die.”

“No, no, no,” I admonished him – as I do when I’m cheerfully scolding him for some not-at-all-serious error. “It’s not the story of everyone’s life. It’s yours. Yours.”

We looked at each other sideways, my eyes asking him to humor me and his telling me he would.

He smiled. Sighed. And drew in a breath.

Then this….

“I am called the imaginative one.”

It was not quite what I expected. But when you ask your children to talk, be ready to hear what they say.

“Huh. Cool,” I said.

I know he didn’t mean it as a comparitive statement. He wasn’t saying he’s more imaginative than someone else (especially his siblings). He just loves to challenge his mind to find new solutions to everyday problems – especially those of the scientific sort. I want to revisit this conversation with him in about 15 years.

But there was another thing that was interesting about both of us writing 6-word memoirs in 30 seconds on an average Thursday – our perspectives.

He immediately chose 1st person – “I.” He stayed close to his subject – himself.

And he used the word “called” – indicating a relationship to others, or just one other. And through that he assigned himself a quality he assumed that the ‘other’ would see in him – imagination.

While I know my son has an intuitive maturity beyond his 13 years, and I don’t think his memoir is wrong, overall I felt it reflected a younger person’s view – the manner of seeing life simply through one’s own eyes.

So what was my 6-word memoir? The one I posted on FB after 30 seconds of thought?

She finally heard Him calling her.

I toyed around with many others for the remainder of the day but never came up with something truer.

I used 3rd person. It shows distance from myself.

Like my son, I used a variation of the word “call.” The apple doesn’t fall far.

My memoir reflects years of missed opportunities to respond to the Lord’s whispered invitation of peace on my heart. It shows that I don’t see myself as the center of my world anymore. I am here to listen, and to do what’s asked of me. And it shows I look up and out for my direction on a day-to-day basis, as a child responds to a father who is calling her name.

She finally heard Him calling her.

That’s my 6-word memoir.

What’s yours?

Mom!! Hear This!!

image

“MOM!! Guess what!??!”

“MOM!! Listen to this song I wrote!”

“MOM!! Can I have Patrick over?”

“MOM!! Can we play on the X-box?”

“MOM!! What is this word?”

“MOM!! He’s annoying me!”

My kids have developed a habit in the last few weeks of beginning all of our conversations with “MOM!!” It’s gotten so bad that last night I had to take a time-out in the middle of the evening’s activities before my husband got home. I went into my room, lay on the bed, and stared at the ceiling.

A few minutes later, I heard the door squeak open, and my daughter came in cautiously. When she saw that I was awake, she lowered her voice to a loud whisper and asked,

“Mom!! What are blackheads?”

Sigh.

So here I am. Font of knowledge. Scheduler. Cook. Mediator. Taxi driver. Captive audience. Etc. And I love it. Most of the time.

But there are days I get a little worn out. And then, well…

My kindergartner can dress himself, of course, but he’s taken to waiting for me to help him on school mornings. I think it’s because it’s  time for just us, and it makes him feel that his day is off to a good start.

Yesterday, when I entered his room, he was half out of his p.j.s, playing with Pokemon cards. His whole face lit up, and I heard the usual, “MOM!!” followed by something which I can’t recall now.

I sank to the floor and said, “C’mon bud, you’ve got to get dressed and downstairs for breakfast.”

But he just stood there in his pajama pants, smiling at me.

Then, he folded himself into my lap and kissed my face saying, “You’re the best mom ever.”

I nearly cried as I hugged his little body and touched his soft skin.

It’s amazing how one small thank you can more than make up for all of the unacknowledged gifts we’ve given. 

And today, as I hear the birds sing, see the flowers bloom and the sun shine, and feel my heart beat again, I know it is a new day. A chance to start again. One big gift, filled with limitless gifts.

And for all the Lord does for me, I can truly touch His heart today. With thanks.

Let us praise him the more, since we cannot fathom him,

for greater is he than all his works,

Awful indeed is the Lord’s majesty,

and wonderful is his power.

-Sirach 43:29-30

Seeds for an Appropriate Time

On a bright spring morning, a walk does my spirit good. And as I circle my block, I come across her garden.

I can almost see her standing there in the shadow of her home, wearing spring pastels and kelly green tennis shoes, pointing out weeds and asking her husband to pull them. Her white hair shines like a crown in the sun. Her eyes dance and her arms wave a happy hello as I walk up her front path.

But she’s been gone to heaven for some time now. And her husband, too – last June. I still miss them – just as much as I did the day I learned that Mr. Schab had at last followed his wife Home. 

So I stand looking at Mrs. Schab’s garden. Her flowers are beginning to bloom.

First, I see a single red tulip.

image image

Then the blue vinca minor (periwinkle).

image

Then the viburnum.

image

And her bright pink azaleas.

image

Colorful, vibrant life springs from the brown, hard earth.

I seldom see their family visiting the house anymore. I suppose it’s been mostly cleaned out.

But you can’t remove everything that’s been planted, deep in fertile soil. You can’t strip it all – even from ground that appears, on the surface, to be nothing but weeds.

The garden renews my hope in the Promise. That with God’s help, our tiny seeds of peace and love – in our families, communities, nation, the world – will surely blossom into something beautiful, when the appropriate time comes.

As the earth brings forth its plants,

and a garden makes its growth spring up,

So will the Lord God make justice and praise

spring up before all nations. 

-Isaiah 61:62

 

Geometry Lesson

imageOh my gosh it was hard.

It was all I could do to stay calm.

Truly – I thought I might rip my hair out.

Or break my own fingers in frustration.

The situation? Helping my oldest son study for a geometry test.

It wasn’t the material that was difficult. It was my boy.

He was angry about having to study. Seeing nothing but red because he didn’t like the questions. Literally throwing his hands up in the air and raising his voice in contempt – at the book – and me.

The triangles on the page were congruent, but he and I were emphatically not.

His temper when he’s threatened surges – just like mine.

But there was hope and I so desperately wanted him to see it.

“What you already know – in part – can help you move forward.”

I whispered words over him.

“Take the information you are given and work it step-by-step to arrive at the answer.”

“Breathe. Believe you can follow the path to the end – and you will.”

“The given clues and the ones you uncover are guides, pointing you toward where you need to go.”

I wanted him to see that I could meet him in all the angles he was trying.

Because I’ve been there. Walked this same path. And he is like me.

I GET him and I GET the struggle.

And as I sit here today and pray for patience and for my son to do his best, it occurs to me that there is a corollary. Another similarity.

The Lord looks down on me and says, “Why do you think I came?”

 

Holy Moments – Day 27 – Clementines

Clementines

There’s one fruit I love this time of year, and I only like them when they come from Spain or Morocco. Clementines. (My apologies to my Floridian friends.) The ones from Europe are sweeter, juicier, and smell more “clementine-ish.” Perhaps it’s just the memories that make me so particular….

I discovered these delicious little oranges in 1992 when studying in France. I don’t remember them in the United States back then, and on my student budget, they were a healthy novelty that paired nicely with the cheese and bread that made up most of my diet. Christmas Eve that year still rings as a fine example of one of those fantastic meals.

I had traveled with two girlfriends to Strasbourg for the holiday because we’d heard it was the “Christmas Capital” of Europe. Right across the border from Germany, this picturesque town boasts unique architecture and a Christmas market in its town centre. We spent Christmas Eve strolling by the open stalls and drinking mulled wine, and after the sun went down, eating a chocolate buche de Noel, cheese, bread, and yes – clementines – in our simple hotel room, which was just a stone’s throw away from the Strasbourg Cathedral. We talked for hours about the people we loved and Christmas back home in the states.

Strasbourg4Strasbourg2Strasbourg1Strasbourg3

By about 10 o’clock, we were very tired, since we had begun our day on the pre-dawn train out of Toulouse. So, we set an alarm to rouse us for the Midnight Mass. Little did we know the alarm would not be needed.

I have never been summoned to church like I was that night!strasbourg-1046384_1280

BELLS!! BELLS!! BELLS!!

They shook our tiny room with a fervor akin to an earthquake.

And we woke up laughing with surprise and glee. We threw on our coats and literally ran out the door and around the corner, into the cathedral.

The place was packed. European churches are often empty these days, but on that night, I stood with hundreds of other latecomers in the back, feeling privileged to have a square foot of ancient stone under my feet. And Mass – conducted in both French and German, with each part being said first in the former and repeated in the latter – felt magical.

At that point in my life, I was not a regular church-goer. I wasn’t even Catholic. But I was captivated by the beauty of the French language, and the art and majesty of cathedrals. The Lord was whispering to me, calling me in ways He knew I’d find appealing. And I was filled with joy standing there in the presence of God’s people, celebrating the birth of His son.

What is the pull of Christmas? The food, friendships, family, the gifts, the beauty of it all? It is an invitation to come and see…Come and see.

He said to them, ‘”Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw… (John 1:39)”

 

Claudia’s Day

image“Mom – Why is God’s plan so hard to understand?”

It is the penultimate question. Asked on a big day. But my daughter had no way of knowing that. I haven’t told her that today marks one year since my stepsister Claudia entered heaven. That Claudia is on my mind. In my heart. And always will be.

“I don’t know.” I answered honestly. “But God is much smarter than we are, and we have to trust him. He wants the best for us – to keep us with Him forever. And while bad things may happen in our lives, He just wants us to lean closer to Him when they do, because if we do, He promises to protect us always in the end. Because while our bodies hurt, our souls are protected. Forever. When we choose Him.”

I was preaching to myself as much to her.

September 13, 2014, my family lost Claudia to complications following childbirth. Over the course of 3 1/2 weeks as Claudia fought for her life in the ICU, my family and I spent hours on our knees, and I posted prayers for her on Facebook. And when she passed, I was emotionally exhausted for weeks.

What many find strange is that I didn’t know Claudia all that well. My father and my stepmom had been married at that point for 12 years, and had 7 grown children between them when they met. My stepmom is from Chile, and over the last decade or so, most of her 5 children had remained there. So, I only met Claudia in person about 3 times. Nevertheless, we were family, and when family is in crisis, family comes together. 

It’s nearly impossible to describe the power of the Holy Spirit when He  intervenes. And it was completely His work in using me to pray for Claudia. I felt a love for her like I would for my blood sister, whom I’d known for 39 years. I was ready to pray for Claudia day and night. I wanted to know every detail about her health status, the care of her baby, the welfare of all those closest to her. There was a holy fire lit in me that I still can’t explain. I just loved her. And I knew that Jesus had called me to this privilege. And the next thing I knew, I began to write down my prayers on Facebook.

I had never before done something like that. Never before had I put my faith before a public audience. And I was completely unafraid. I felt the boldness and confidence of the Lord in my heart and it brought me joy and peace to appeal to Him daily on behalf of Claudia.

Within a couple weeks, I felt another nudge from the Holy Spirit to begin this blog, and I know without a doubt that if I hadn’t been primed for the experience by writing prayers, I either would have ignored this nudge, or backed down from it out of fear.

So that’s what I want to say today. I want to thank my sister Claudia for opening a new door for me. I have always thought it was the Holy Spirit that prompted me to write this blog, to accept that 31-day writing challenge that started it all. But the other day, I had a passing notion – ‘Hey – What if she was the one who came up with the idea? Maybe whispered it in Jesus’s ear? Hmm? Can these things happen in heaven?’

I don’t know. But this last year of writing and following through on that holy nudge has been her lasting gift to me, and I am really looking forward to meeting her again someday.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:38-39

Bump in the Road

image“Mom!” she yells. “Why are you turning around?”

“There’s a sign back there. I want to take a picture of it. For my blog.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

And for once. For once! She doesn’t press. ‘Because’ is enough of an answer. I thank the Lord for this small mercy.

I don’t know how I could explain it to her anyway….The many reasons why I called her grandmother yesterday, just because I needed my own mom for a few moments…

When I dialed Mom in Florida I looked at the clock and assumed I’d need 10 minutes to vent – to really get it all out. Ten turned into 30, and Mom listened patiently – to all the ways the state of the world had gotten me down. She offered only words of encouragement, a tiny bit of advice, and the gentle reminder that, “The devil loves to see us stewing in anger.”

Deep sigh…I know. I KNOW. And don’t our moms often tell us the truth? Whether we really want to hear it or not?

And then later I see a sign. Literally. A SIGN. Telling me again that all the things I vented to my mom about are just BUMPS. Bumps. And I have been forewarned.

This world is not perfect. And it will continually disappoint me because I was not made for it. I was made for more.

I crave the purity and loveliness of the One in Whom there are no imperfections. And so no matter what might fall or spring up in my path today, I must keep my eyes on eternity and on Him whose perfect sacrifice has washed me clean from the ugliness I loathe in myself and others.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33

Look again at this photo. On the left there’s a father with his child on his shoulders. Dad carries the weary child, and from the new vantage point, the child can see a bit farther. It’s exactly the way my Father in Heaven wants to carry me. And you.

imagephoto